Category Archives: Advent

The Third with them

Readings
Micah 5.2–5a
Luke 1.39–55

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Advent sermon, http://enemylove.com/subversive-magnificat-mary-expected-messiah-to-be-like/

Jesus was born to be a marginal person. He was conceived by Mary when she was unwed .… Thus, while the birth of Jesus to Mary was divinely justified, it was nevertheless socially condemned. Jesus, as well as his parents, was marginalised from the time of his conception. — Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 79

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This is one of the very few passages of scripture in which only women appear. It may be the only one in the New Testament; the only other one in all scripture that I can think of is the story of Ruth, where Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi and sister-in-law Orpah are heading out of Moab towards Bethlehem. Orpah, of course, returns to Moab but Ruth goes on with Naomi.

But today, we have Elizabeth and Mary. As I said, alone. No man in sight. And really, men are given scarce credit for this scenario. 

You know, if Luke chapter 1 were a film, Mary would be the star and Elizabeth her co-star. Her husband Zechariah would be a supporting actor and poor Joseph would be an extra. With his name in very small print.

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A Second Naivete

Readings
Luke 1.68–79
Luke 3.1–6

 

…scholars had to learn to read the Bible again through lenses ground by faith and theology, including the theological reading of Scripture developed in the first Christian centuries and in the Middle Ages. It was necessary, in other words, to practise the ecumenism of time when reading and trying to understand the Bible.

And what is true for biblical scholars is surely true for other believers. We, too, must learn to approach the Bible with what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur once called a ‘second naivete’—not the naivete of the child, but the openness to wonder and mystery that comes from having passed through the purifying fires of modern knowledge without having one’s faith in either revelation or reason reduced to ashes and dust. — George Weigel, ‘Second Naivete: Reading the Christmas story with Benedict XVI’.

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A granddad is reading stories to his young granddaughter, stories he loved as a boy. They may be the Narnia tales, or Winnie the Pooh, or Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. 

Granddad loves this as much as Granddaughter. Why not, they’re sharing precious time together and creating memories. But Granddad hasn’t picked these stories up for years. As he grew up, he’d learned that bears don’t talk and that for them piglets are food not friends. Secret worlds like Narnia don’t exist. And gumnuts don’t talk. 

He’d got on with life instead, building a career, mowing the lawn, having a family which this dear little child is part of.

Now, he’s not just enjoying being with his granddaughter, though that would be enjoyment enough; he is connecting with these children’s stories in a new way, a way that awakens him to something within, something he can’t quite put his finger on. 

He knows the wardrobe is just a wardrobe. He knows there’s no point going off to find the Hundred-Acre Wood. He knows it’s all imagination, yet—at the same time—it does seem bigger and vaster than him. 

Granddaughter just loves the stories. And snuggling with Granddad.

She is perfectly happy to accept that Winnie the Pooh is real—and now, when she sees an open wardrobe door she feels something… Is it a thrill or a chill? She doesn’t always know. 

They’re both happy to have read the story, and they go to bed contented, but for different reasons. 

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Now, but not yet

Readings
Jeremiah 33.14–16
Luke 21.25–36

 

Christian eschatology has nothing to do with apocalyptic ‘final solutions’…, for its subject is not ‘the end’ at all. On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, Kindle edition, loc.82

The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. — Tertullian, Treatise 7, On the Mortality, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers2/ANF-05/anf05-117.htm

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Yitschak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli activist on 4 November 1995. Rabin was the prime minister of Israel; in 1994, he had received the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat for building peace in the Middle East. That peace seems a very long way away now. 

A short time after his death, there was a memorial service for Yitschak Rabin in the Mary St Synagogue here in Brisbane. I went to this service as the representative of the Uniting Church. 

After the service, I was filing out behind two Jewish men. They were saddened, they were thoughtful. One said to the other, ‘It’s almost enough to make you wish the Messiah would come.’ 

There was a little playfulness there—it’s almost enough to make you wish the Messiah would come—but you couldn’t miss the genuine longing in this man’s voice. A longing for peace with justice. For all people, whoever they are.

We share this longing with Jews, but wait—there is a difference. We claim the long-awaited Messiah has already come. His name is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. 

The Messiah has come, but like those two Jewish men we still long for peace with justice.

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The Year of the Lord’s Favour

Reading

Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. — Augustine, On Christian Theology

The entire Biblical Scripture is solely concerned that man understand that God is kind and gracious to him and that He has publicly exhibited and demonstrated this His kindness to the whole human race through Christ his Son. However, it comes to us and is received by faith alone, and is manifested and demonstrated by love for our neighbour. — First Helvetic Confession, 1536

You have heard that it was said … but I say to you … — Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse brought down its final report on Friday, after 4.5 years. The life of the churches has changed for good in the light of the Commission.

One survivor of child abuse said on Friday:

Care and compassion has already lifted tenfold. We need to make sure we keep people alive and in a good place, by making sure they’ve got the counselling care they need.

It has taken a royal commission to bring this care and compassion to this man, and no doubt to many others.

In our reading from Isaiah today, we heard these words:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;…

I think we can see who are the oppressed, brokenhearted ones are in this situation. It is the children who have become adults with burdens that were never lifted from their backs.

Jesus once placed a child in the midst of his disciples. The story is in Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…”

The disciples hanker after greatness; Jesus shows them what greatness is in God’s eyes.

To be great is to take the place of a child, to embrace humility, to serve others. There is no other way; this is the way of the cross.

Time and time again, we have seen that the way church leaders took is another way altogether. It has been to protect their church’s good name, to keep their mouths closed, to disbelieve what they were told. Or they can’t remember anything about it.

The end result has been to deny care and compassion to the children in their care.

Perhaps I should read the next verse in Matthew18:

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

It’s a grim warning.

The consequences for the churches are also grim. Many non-churchgoing Aussies have lost any faith they had in the church as a community in which the love of God is to be found. Our moral authority is at record lows.

What should be our response?

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Good News

Readings
Isaiah 40.1–11
Mark 1.1-8

The gospel here is not just Jesus (1:1), but also the gospel-of-God kingdom that Jesus himself proclaims (1:14-15) and its resultant faith/ repentance, too. — David Schnasa Jacobsen, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries)

Revivals are hindered when ministers and churches take the wrong stand in regard to any question involving human rights. — Charles Finney, Lectures on Revival

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I heard the story once of a national Assembly meeting where some representatives were feeling introspective, but not in a constructive way. “What have we got to offer?” said the speaker.

The reply from someone in the cheap seats came: “What have we got to offer? What have we got to offer? Eternal bloody life, that’s what we’ve got to offer!”

We have wonderful good news to offer. I love the way Mark’s Gospel begins:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The grammar nazis among you will tell me that’s not a sentence because there’s no verb in it.

And I shall reply that’s because it’s not meant to be a sentence. It’s a title. And it’s best understood as the title to the whole of Mark’s Gospel. The title tells us that the whole Gospel of Mark is just the beginning of the story of Jesus; we are continuing that story today.

Perhaps we’re still at the beginning. Who knows? “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day”. (2 Peter 3.8) Maybe we’re still in the early days of the Church.

Perhaps we’re still learning how to get it right. Maybe we’re still learning how to speak of the good news of Christ into the world. Maybe we’re even having to learn whether some things are good news or bad news.

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Joy, and two jailbirds (Advent 3, Year A; 11 December 2016

Readings
Isaiah 35.1–10
Matthew 11.2–11

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? (Matthew 11.3)

I want to tell you a story today. It’s the story of two jailbirds. One of the two is the Apostle Paul. The other is John the Baptist.

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Repent, rethink, return (Advent 2, 2016A)

Readings
Isaiah 11.1–10
Matthew 3.1–12

‘In those days,’ as Matthew’s Gospel tells the story, ‘John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”’

When the kingdom of God is near, we’d best repent. Or we may miss it.

The kingdom of God is full of grace, peace, justice, hope, love and joy.

The kingdom of God is greater, wider and deeper than we can possibly imagine.

The kingdom of God is full of people from all races, languages and cultures. Repentant people. We’d spoil it if we didn’t repent.

I want to talk today about the repentance that is needed for the coming kingdom of God. I’m going to do it in two ways:

  • Firstly, repentance from sin;
  • Secondly, the repentance needed as we grow in maturity.

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